Superintendent Eduardo Hernández speaks to parents at Gus Garcia Middle School, one of two schools asking teachers to reapply for their jobs. Credit: Stephanie Marquez / San Antonio Report

After the State graded 10 of Edgewood Independent School District’s 20 campuses as failing in 2019, Superintendent Eduardo Hernández decided to take a drastic step to change course. District officials told teachers and administrators at two schools this week they would need to reapply for their jobs as Edgewood implements a new educational model, effectively restarting schools.

Teachers, counselors, social workers, principals, and assistant principals must prove they have produced high academic outcomes and sustained student growth to retain their jobs at Gus Garcia Middle School and Perales Elementary, Superintendent Eduardo Hernández said Friday afternoon.

Teachers not selected to remain on a particular campus can apply for a job at another Edgewood school. Should a teacher not be placed at another campus, the district can choose not to renew the teacher’s contract or lay him or her off.

The Edgewood board and its legal counsel first discussed potential job cuts behind closed doors at a Nov. 19 board meeting. At the time, district staff said there were no plans for layoffs.

“What we’ve done in the past is obviously not working and if we expect to increase student achievement, the only way we can do that is by creating an environment where we attract high-performing teachers that want to come in,” Hernández said. 

The new educational model, called Accelerating Campus Excellence, or ACE, was first introduced in Dallas ISD as a reset for chronically low-performing schools. The model is intended to quickly turn around academically struggling schools such as those in Edgewood ISD, which saw 10 of its campuses fail state standards. 

ACE is expensive to implement and assigns many additional responsibilities to teachers; they have longer hours of instruction and more requirements for professional development. It also makes available more resources and provides financial incentives that draw the highest-performing teachers.

Edgewood will implement the ACE model at Gus Garcia Middle School and Perales Elementary next fall. A total of 1,158 students were enrolled at the two campuses last school year, with 70 teachers employed.

Susan Salinas, a Texas State Teacher’s Association official who works with the Edgewood chapter of the teachers’ union, told the Rivard Report that the TSTA was evaluating the plan and preparing to talk with Edgewood administrators.

The teacher’s group will consult with their legal department about appropriate next steps, Salinas said. If the district is willing to work with teachers to ensure they are treated fairly throughout the process, “we can work things out,” she added.

“If not, I think the district is going to lose a lot of experienced teachers.”

When Hernández told the staff at Garcia and Perales of the model change this week, most educators at both campuses indicated they would want to reapply for their positions.

Teachers and administrators hired to remain on the ACE campuses will work eight additional hours each week and go through additional professional development requirements during the school year and in the summer. They will receive stipends to compensate for the additional time, job duties, and responsibilities, according to an ACE program flyer handed out to teachers Thursday at Perales.

“All teachers have to quantitatively and qualitatively demonstrate that they are the best teachers for this particular campus,” Hernández said. “We look at … prior assessment performance, things like attendance … but the biggest part of that criteria is we want to see your prior scores improve.”

The program will last at least three years. In the third year, campus and district leadership will meet to evaluate the campus’ progress. Hernández is open to extending the model to other district campuses in the future.

The Edgewood superintendent’s move to restart some low-performing campuses comes at a time when the district is also implementing widespread changes in its five-year innovation plan. The plan’s goal is to introduce new school models and turn existing campuses into in-district charters, while also allowing families to attend whatever district school best matches a student’s interest.

The most recent step in this plan was partnering with Texas A&M University-San Antonio to operate Gus Garcia and the Burleson Center, a center that serves students age 18 and up who require special education services.

When the ACE model was first implemented in 2015, for the same purpose it was considered radical and expensive to carry out, but showed promising results that were frequently touted by education officials during the most recent legislative session. In 2016, six of the seven failing ACE schools received passing grades. Operating an ACE school costs about $1,300 extra per student, according to reporting by the Dallas-based National Public Radio affiliate KERA.

Some of the model’s cost stems from the number of additional resources offered. Under ACE, Edgewood will offer classes to help parents reinforce literacy efforts at home and provide extra resources like laundry rooms within schools.

Hernández estimated the total cost of the program at the two district campuses would likely be several million dollars over three years. Edgewood will pull together various funding, including money from state grants and the district’s own operating budget, the superintendent said.

In 2018, Edgewood ISD was Bexar County’s lowest-rated school district, receiving a D on the State’s report card. In 2019, Edgewood improved to a C, but half its campuses failed state standards. Only four campuses improved their letter grades from 2017-18 to 2018-19. Most declined in performance on the State’s report card.

Perales Elementary received the second of two consecutive failing grades from the State in 2018-19. Garcia scored a D, but its students previously struggled academically.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.